Editorial: Why doing the basics still counts

If the 2007 Institute of Fundraising National Convention had a theme, it would undoubtedly be donor engagement. The topic cropped up in many of the sessions, but has also featured strongly in the National Fundraising Awards and in the informal meetings and discussions between delegates and speakers. And so it should: isn't engaging with donors what fundraising is all about?

This makes the findings from the Pell & Bales mystery shopping exercise doubly shocking. Researchers found that half their attempts to set up direct debits were unsuccessful, and only three of the 40 charities they approached sent out welcome packs.

As part of the research, the charities were also contacted by a regular giver to complain that each charity was spending too much on administration. Only half the phone and email enquiries received satisfactory answers, and on a third of occasions the enquiry was not dealt with at all. Back at the convention, at Brian Garvey's seminar '21st Century Donor', many were surprised to learn that donors think charities spend up to 60 per cent of their expenditure on administration.

It has become clear during the convention that charities have still got a lot of work ahead of them when it comes to educating donors and the general public about how modern charities work - including the reasons it is often vital to invest in decent administration and infrastructure.

The finding that many charities in the Pell & Bales research didn't even respond to complaints will worry the folk at the Fundraising Standards Board. With public awareness of the board growing all the time, they may find themselves on the receiving end of ever more complaints. Many of the charities that were approached by researchers have signed up to the FRSB, which means they have committed to having complaints procedures in place. Now is the time for them to get their procedures up to scratch.

Perhaps these charities could take a leaf out of the RNIB's book. It has set up a dedicated helpline to deal with fundraising enquiries. Actions like these send the right message to donors and the public - that they matter to the charity.

Although sessions on topics such as neuro-linguistic programming, integrated supporter journeys and harnessing the motivational power of Maslow's hierarchy of needs provide inspiration, it is important to remember the basics. Responding quickly and effectively to donors' enquiries, asking them how they prefer you to communicate with them and a simple "thank you" go a long way.

Hear the RNIB's experiences at 9.30 today in the York room.

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